We had the unfortunate timing of arriving in this famous food and wine region of WA on the last day of the long weekend and busy was an understatement! It was a stark contrast to the peace and tranquility of the forests however also a welcome dose of civilisation – cafes and shops!!! Needless to say there was a little bit of mummy time where I escaped down the main street just to browse and revel in it all (albeit still in my hiking pants and boots but can’t have it all on this trip). There was something bitter-sweet about returning to this area as a family, Craig and I had both visited the region previously and had fond memories of winery hopping, restaurants and maybe, ahem, a slight sense of inebriation the entire trip. Visiting with kids does change the entire dynamic but in some ways make it even better – the excitement of visiting Simmo’s ice creamery (and milking the pretend cows), the overwhelming, giddy thrill they got from the chocolate factory and especially their joy walking around Cowaramup with all the cows placed around the town almost made up for the fact we only got to visit a handful of wineries!
The Margaret River Icon
Simmo’s Ice Creamery
We all scream for ice cream
Another advantage of not being all cosmopolitan and hanging out in trendy places was I actually explored the Margaret River itself (the name has previously been more synonymous with vin rouge than nature walking in my memory!). Our van park was tiny and situated right by the river and after venturing out one day for a walk I discovered there were trails starting there that meandered for miles through forest and alongside the river – it was beautiful and peaceful and I covered many french lessons wandering along the water way.
Since our last visit there has also been an absolute explosion of brewery’s and although beer is not really my thing – but is definitely the husbands thing – this turned out to be the best family activity around (does that sound like irresponsible parenting?) Some of the breweries were very family friendly, featuring massive playgrounds right next to restaurants with child friendly options and we spent many hours sitting in the sun sampling their wares (with a duty driver of course!) while the kids played. It was amusing listening to the winery owners accounts of this competition, apparently there has never been any problems with drunken rowdy behaviour until the breweries became established (although I find that a little hard to believe) and the police have only started breathalising in the area since their arrival as well (once again, might be urban legend!)
Another sign of our new family friendly status was our joy in finding Olio Bella, a little boutique farm featuring delicious, organic, cold pressed olive oils from virgin through to parmesan/lime/lemon infused oils (there were a whole bunch in between but as these are the ones we bought I remember them!) There little cafe area was peaceful and serene – when our children were absorbed in their colouring books at least – and they provided a full tasting of every single oil, tapenade and olive they sold – bliss.
I’m finally catching up on blog posts after a very lazy month (that included two weeks in Bali so that one is yet to come as well!) In the interest of catching up I’m lumping all of our time in the forest areas into one, as it was really just a case of wandering from one patch of really tall, old and beautiful trees to the other in this lush and ancient area 300 kms South of Perth. We started camping in the Shannon National Park and despite being a long weekend (maybe because it was a particularly freezing long weekend!) there was only a scattering of campers here. We loved it – there were fabulous hot showers, clean toilets and pre-cut fire wood (the ranger here needs a medal). Nights were pitch black other than the one of those amazingly thick star fields above (which fascinated our city living kids) and so peaceful and quiet we all slept like the dead.
From here we explored all the old growth Marri, Karri and Jarrah tree forests of Walpole, Pemberton and surrounds, finding what felt like secret circles of giant trees (the Karri grows up to 90 metres high!), buying local honey harvested from the aforementioned trees – which tasted like nothing you’ve ever bought in a store and generally just wandering around feeling awe-struck. It’s not like I haven’t been in forests before, but to be surrounded by these absolute behemoths of trees in the complete silence of the wilderness was almost (almost!) a spiritual experience…until the five year olds emerged from the Prado and completely shattered the peace of course and then it became much more of a guided nature walk again. As a quick aside, I think silence is the thing I miss the most since becoming a parent!
Big Tree Grove
Big Tree Grove
Snake Gully Look-Out
Snake Gully Look-Out
There were a couple of highlights from our forest sojourn… in particular the massive “fire tower” trees of the area that have previously been used as look out points to check for forest fires – complete with cabins built at the top of these 60+ metre high trees! Even more astounding is the fact tourists can climb three of these trees just for fun – using metal stakes driven into the trunks…yikes. Despite being employed in safety I often think that public safety regulation has become a little ridiculous but it does seem brave of the WA government to encourage thousands of tourists to precariously climb a massive tree using nothing but footholds and with the odd bit of fencing wire for protection! We watched with fascination as groups of tourists went up – and down – the same rungs and negotiated their way past each other A sign advised there were a maximum number of climbers allowed at any one time but there didn’t appear to be any actual control on that. Funnily enough one of our shorter family members was keen to get climbing herself, despite the fact I had to ‘rescue’ her from the 2 metre high playground equipment the day before….that bright idea was quickly vetoed by the taller members of the family. We did let them climb a short distance for a photo opportunity – and of course to make all our friends on Facebook think we are totally irresponsible parents for letting our children climb ridiculously tall trees. I also had to exercise all of my social restraint after witnessing the groups of tourists blatantly feeding the wild birds (from a bag of bird seed – who carries bird seed around?) right in front of the “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” sign. I’m sure the birdies were happy about it…but still….
Intrepid Tree Climbers – For Now!
Forest Walk – Tree so huge you could play hide and seek around it
Putting it in Perspective
Still couldn’t get the whole tree in shot
Although not the hubby’s cup of tea, one of my favourite activities here was the “Understory” walk in Northcliffe, a winding walk through bushy forest populated by large outdoor artworks including sculptures, music and writing. It was also one of the most peaceful – husband remained behind so there was no grumbling about the ridiculousness of art, the girls were given an iPod each so they could listen to children’s stories about the forest and its animals and plants and I was able to wander through reading the brochure about the artworks as I went and soaking up the atmosphere. All three of us returned relaxed – although there was much giggling from the short ones about the little ‘people’ statues they discovered in the undergrowth!
Girls Loudly Exclaimed – Its a Boy!
Listening to the bush stories
As peaceful and beautiful as this area is pretty soon we had all had enough of tree watching and driving through forests – particularly as the next port of call was Margaret River and the red wine was already calling to us!
We didn’t think anything was going to live up to the playground right in front of our campsite at Coles Bay – but we were wrong. Moving into the Big 4 at St Helens, right on the edge of the Bay of Fires we discovered a jumping pillow (!!!), a playground and games room that we could camp practically in front of. I may or may not have been seen jumping around on the pillow with the kids a few times – as always there is no photographic proof (I don’t think). It seems this has become the kids paradise tour of Tasmania – which we are going to put an immediate stop to by going free camping after we check out on Wednesday. Of course it’s going to be a stark contrast after camping Disneyland but I’m sure the kids will cope – it’s a matter of the adults coping with the whining!
So in line with our aim of spoiling the kids fun we went and looked at all the spots the locals had recommended along the Bay of Fires for free camping. I may have also been a little reluctant, having been accustomed to power, running water and shower blocks (sigh) but as the photos will attest to, this place is the Tasmanian Whitsunday’s. Before all the Queenslanders get their knickers in a twist I know it can’t compete with the water temperature but otherwise there is white sand, turquoise water and miles and miles and miles of beautiful beaches. We are slowly luring the kids in with promises of night beach fires, toasted marshmallows and beach frisbee – plus hunting down every piece of detritus the ocean throws on the sand and declaring ‘treasure’ so it can stink out the camper.
The other highlight of the day was visiting the Pyengana Dairy Company headquarters, set right in the middle of the lush green grazing fields with a mountainous backdrop where we also trekked to one of the highest water falls in Tassie. The “Holy Cow Cafe” offered tastings of their traditionally made cheese (to die for), home made ice-cream and milk that hadn’t been homogenised, leaving the thick layer of cream on top. This is almost impossible to obtain on the ‘mainland’ so I’m devastated about leaving the land of cream topped milk now.
St Columba Falls
This was all topped off for the little people by seeing a real working dairy and lots of frolicking calves – although it made me realise what little city slickers we are raising when they became overly excited every time a cow ‘mooed’ and I had to explain what an udder was!!
Bicheno was a relatively quick trip from where we stayed at Coles Bay and although we didn’t spend a lot of time in this little town it was obviously a beautiful spot in summer with its miles of beaches, wharfs selling fresh fish and oysters and hands down the best local roasted coffee I have ever tried. This was quite a spot for gastronomical delights as the local butcher also provided us with freshly made thick cut smoky bacon rashers and a fillet of smoked trout that made breakfast the next day an experience all by itself.
The weather unfortunately didn’t allow for going out in the glass bottomed boat on offer there but apparently Bicheno is considered the best temperate water diving in Australia (translated by the husband as barely above freeze your butt off temperature!) I may have my advanced dive ticket but nothing was going to induce me into the waters around here this time of year.
So the dry run for the trip has turned into a very, very wet run – although that hasn’t stopped the feral pack of kids having a good time in the mud! There’s been some discussion around our living arrangements for the six months so here’s a sneak preview:
Setting up is still being fine tuned, to quote my apparently much more organized other half “it will be quicker as you become more useful”. Hmmm – you think he’d know better after 11 years of marriage.
We may be homeless soon but there are a few necessities coming with:
Coffee Machine (husband)
Pizza in the Weber Q (kids) but not the beer!
There is probably a distinct food theme developing here, wait until the Thermomix makes an appearance..